Saturday, May 06, 2006

How long is your hair? 1 Corintians 11:13-15

Sequel to: Because of the angels? 1 Corinthians 11:10

In the New International Version (NIV) 1 Corintians 11:13-15 reads:

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
In Dutch there is a book Vrouwen in de gemeente van Christus (1997) by George and Dora Winston. It is a translation but I was unable to find out of what. It can't be their Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women because that book was published in 2003... The Dutch title translates to Women in the church of Christ.

Update: In the comments J. Mel identifies the two books as the same, but the Dutch edition was published earlier.

In this (1997) book they come with a remarkable anwer to the question: how long is long?
According to them it is...

... clear that the woman's hair must be long in comparision with her husband's and that his hair must be short in comparision with her's. (page 213 of the Dutch edition, my own translation.)
About at that point I pulled out in reading their book. Is this kind of hairsplitting really part of the christian lifestyle?

But I must admit, it is far from easy to understand these verses.

  1. In what way does nature teach us these things? When I let the very nature of my hair go it's way, my hair will become as long as my wife's hair (or even longer...) With lions, the male is the one with long hair. Some tribes in Africa have such frizzy hair, it does not grow long at all.
  2. A Nazarite, someone who devoted himself to the Lord with a special vow, was not allowed to shave himself at all (Numbers 6:5.) Samson had to keep his hair long. And when we think of John the Baptizer and even Jesus himself, we often think of men with long hair (although I couln't find any Biblical evidence for that.)
In Why not women? David Hamilton thinks this verse refers to what was considered naturally. The point then is that the Corinthian christians had to stick to what was culturally acceptable. Hairstyle was not allowed to be a hindrance to the gospel.

Quite a different approach is to not translate the Greek here as interogative. According to William Welty there are good reasons to translate the original as declaratives instead of interogatives. The verses then read:

It is proper for a woman to pray to God without head coverings. Nature in no way teaches on the one hand that if a man has hair it puts him to shame nor does it teach on the other that a woman's hair is her glory. All of this is true because hair is given as a substitute for man-made coverings. (1 Corintians 11:13-15 ISV)

Also see Suzanne's post of a few days ago.
The original post in Dutch can be found here.


Suzanne McCarthy said...


When you mention people of other races, Africans with short hair it makes me think of Chinese men who wore their hair long, they were not allowed to cut their braid. Also here we have many Sikh men who wear their hair in a turban and do not cut it. So the difference in long vs short hair is not universal.

However, in some way maybe a woman wearing her out and on display might be more of a contrast with male custom. It doesn't mean much these days, but I guess it did once.

Anonymous said...

I liked the hair splitting joke.

The hair splitting is explained by the fact that the book is an exegetical response. Step by step, word study by word study, from the OT to the New it puts together a biblical theology of women in all spheres of authority.

The authors answer all 83 objections of Piper and Grudem's complementarian stand in "Recovering Biblical Manhood". I would think this book is right up you Greek lovers' alley.

Yes, Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women is the same book as the Dutch one. It was first published in Dutch. George Winston was the director of the Belgian Bible Institute for 33 years, where many Dutch pastors have been trained. He's an american married to a belgian, who has lived most of his life in Belgium and tought in Dutch and French his whole life.

A major Christian editing house had signed a contract with them to publish the book in English first. But they broke their contract because it was too much of a hot potatoe. Right before the book was to come out people went crazy in the States over the question of Bible translation. That is why in English it is a self published book (Xulon) while in Holland it went in though a known publishing house and went in no time through 2 editions, the success was so great. I guess that is called "not daring to go against the establishment" on the part of american publishing houses.

I might bore people, but I am just going to keep putting the book out there in my own small way. I am no blogger and have no know-how in all that stuff but you'll see me here and there. Bare with me, if you please.

I think there is much at stake for the Gospel (all those gifted women sitting sweetly on their hands) and how can some women just live with the constant shadow of the limitations placed on them?

J. Mel

Ruud Vermeij said...

Thanks J. Mel for your reaction. The Dutch editions says Translated by Evert W. van der Poll so I imagined that there should have been an English original published before the Dutch edition. Thanks for connecting the two books. My wife studied at the Belgian Bible Institute and knows the couple.

I think I have to reread the book. It is years ago that I read it. At that time I never have heard of Grundem or Piper and RBMW...

Anonymous said...

You're welcome Ruud and what a small world with your wife and all!
J. Mel

Ruud Vermeij said...

The link to the William Welty document is no longer valid. It can now be found over here.